The nice thing about anthologies is that they're a great way to explore an unfamiliar genre, learn about authors you might be unfamiliar with, and to get some fun stories that don't require a full-length investment. If it turns out you don't like a story, move on to the next one without feeling like you've wasted your time.
This particular anthology didn't have any disappointing stories for me, and there were a couple that really stood out for me, so on the whole I'd say this venture was well worth my credit. The stories were well-crafted and well-told, and the performances served largely to improve them. The couple that stood out... they REALLY stood out for me and pushed this from a 3-star to a 4-star rating. There's a lot of fun here, but there are also some decidedly darker twists that I didn't expect, the kind of thing that haunts the reader that lingers on it a bit too long. Sometimes it's surprising how much punch a short story can have.
As far as overviews of the Middle Ages go, I would rank this book in my top 3. History is so much more than names and dates; it's cause and effect, action and reaction spurred by motivation and belief systems. The religious and geopolitical minefield of the Medieval era can be incredibly difficult to navigate. Where some overviews are far too simple to be of any use, and others are far too detailed to be effective as overviews, this book serves that perfect middle ground for both beginners and scholars alike. It's an excellent read that serves to pull all lines of thinking together and highlights some of the giants of the age in the process.
Like so many, I grew up reading the tales of Arthur, and though it's been years since I've read this particular version of it, it's always stood out to me as one of the best versions. Let it be said that it's still a fantastic version, but it's nowhere near as straightforward as I remember it.
The knights and their lineages are given rapidly (it's good to have Wiki or some other resource with you), and many of the story points are told out of order or given through prophecy. I realize that spoilers are a bit of a non-issue for a story like this, but for a first-timer, it's not the most friendly version. Then again, they do kind of give you all the spoilers in the book's description, don't they? Even so, it doesn't detract from the magic of the tales.
This particular reading... skip it. Unless you're already predisposed as liking Frederick Davidson's narrating style, let this be a warning. Like so many other reviewers, I find his voice to be ok, but his tone and presentation make him come across like a British Tommy Lee Jones: bored, annoyed, and otherwise disgusted with the material. I have an abridged version on cassette narrated by Derek Jacobi that I bought some 20+ years ago, and it's a far, far superior reading. I'd love to find an unabridged version by him or someone with equal enthusiasm for the material.
Blame Indiana Jones, but I have a fascination with art and artifacts. That's where this book comes in. This one recounts the recovery of treasures in the wake of the German surrender in 1945, including the reasons why the team was given only 3 weeks to do so, and some background on the stories behind the artifacts. By necessity, the author also discusses the reasons why these treasures were taken in the first place, which put in the context of history makes for interesting reading.
The author has made the Herculean decision of trying to cover this topic from as many directions as possible in an extremely limited time, and there is plenty of personal speculation to go along with massive info dump. Such will inevitably be the nature of the beast when dealing with subject matter of this sort. In spite of this, the narrative somehow manages to not become the tangled train wreck in could potentially be. It's not a straight line, but the meandering does have points to make if the reader can stay on the same page with what the author is trying to put forth. Most books of this kind are more than an little "out there," and this one stays reigned in and more scholarly by comparison. For those who like their history in one place, even if it's not nice and tidy, this one is worth the read for anyone so inclined towards the topic.
When you read the longer history tomes, be they about a specific period or maybe a larger overview, the minutae of what goes into siege warefare is usually glossed over with broad strokes. This book is for all of you armchair historians and fantasy gamers out there who want details. This book talks about everything from the weapons and baggage train to the roles of women and the digging of underground tunnels. The more you know about the general history and politics of a given era, the more you'll appreciate the details, but ultimately it's really not necessary as those broad strokes are provided as a reverse of most other history books.
The setup for this book is a good one. Discovered in the act of leading a "normal" life, the legendary Kvothe is coaxed into telling his complete story to a Chronicler. What follows is one of the most detailed fictional autobiographies I've ever had the pleasure to read.
I've read some opposing reviews on this, which stands to reason as the level of minutae will either make or break the story for most readers. To me, that's what makes this story that much more real. Kvothe and his world feel alive. The storytelling is as compelling as anything you'd find from Sanderson or other contemporaries without dipping into the gore and perversity found in Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. At least, not yet. Book 2 is still out there, and this story has planted its seeds of darkness and despair. Likewise, the characters work for the right reasons. Many of them are very much the stenciled template archetypes as so many fantasy characters are, but the way they're written makes you forget that very quickly. The world around them is built in five senses, base needs, and realistic motivations. They interact with that world and each other in the same way.
As a surprise, when Rothfuss ventures into the poetic, it's as rich as Tolkien, which is something I rarely see. Most prose writers don't feel they can write poetry, so they don't try, but for Kvothe's beginnings as a bard in a nomadic troupe, it's not only believable, it's necessary. It's part of what gives the world the feeling of depth and history, through culture. I don't know if Rothfuss studied theater and music, but based on what I'm reading, I'd be surprised if he didn't. If he didn't, he certainly knows people who did. Either way, you can't fake the experience he writes when it comes to the musical performances. There's a line from Mr. Holland's Opus where he instructs his student to "play the sunset." Rothfuss is able to describe that experience in a way that will make you feel it. For me, this is what truly makes this novel a literary treasure. If he can do that, imagine what happens when the pendulum swings the other way into the realm of dread.
When Hines wrote this sequel, I think he understood that the basic fun of the first one wouldn't be enough to sustain more. As any quality sequel should do, this one opens the world a bit more, asking questions not only about the nature of libriomancy as introduced in the first book, but also about the characters. Lena's character is the focal point as our primary characters are expanded upon, and the end result makes this story more satisfying. Even so, the basic fun that made the first one work is still here, and it's safe to say that if you liked the first, you'll like this one as well. I'm looking forward to seeing where the next book takes us.
I absolutely looooove the idea of this book. The rules are there, the idea is simple and effective, and the possibilities are endless. If you could pull objects from books into the real world, what would you pick?
The story itself is light and fast, but there's still plenty of room for some character development, most of which is definitely aimed at a teenage audience. But for every misstep or perceived shortcoming, this book offers a great deal of fun and imagination.
The narrator is decent. What would have been a higher score for performance is dropped by his inability to pronounce the word "automaton." This word is used a LOT, especially in the second half of the book, so the more it's mispronounced, the more it grates. Apart from that, it's clear the narrator had as much fun with this as I did.
Where book 1 was largely derivative setup, book 2 is much more fun! Pitting Strahd against the necromancer lich Azalin from Forgotten Realms, this book examines not only some great characterization as these two powerhouses play off each other, it also sees the formation of the Demi-Planes of Dread that comprise the Ravenloft campaign setting. For those looking for a quick read through a fantasy / horror realm, this one is definitely worth the look. I still recommend getting book 1 just to build the foundation if nothing else, but I don't know that it's entirely necessary. This one's friendly to new readers.
With the atmosphere and trappings of Stoker's Dracula, combined with the autobiographical bent of Rice's Interview with the Vampire, this Ravenloft tie-in novel is the first of the books in Strahd's "journal." If you're looking for originality, don't look here. Then again, if you're looking for originality, why are you reading vampire novels? What you will find here is a well-written Gothic novel with all of the classic bits in place. It's quick and fun read, pure and simple, and serves (as all tie-ins do) to breathe life into the Ravenloft campaign setting, if you'll pardon the unintentional pun.
Joe Schreiber proved on Death Troopers that he can write for very specific subgenres. With Maul: Lockdown, the prison subgenre is given the Star Wars treatment. The first half of the book plays through every stereotype and expected classic bit imaginable in a way that's too much fun to just skip over. As Darth Sidious observes, any situation is rendered unstable when Maul is present, and Schreiber goes out of his way to show us exactly what that means. The second half, however, spends some time showing us the superior workings of Maul's mind and his worthiness to be a Sith apprentice. Being an amazing fighter isn't enough to be a classic villain, after all.
Taking place during the events of Darth Plagueis, shortly before The Phantom Menace, this book is NOT the sequel you might expect. Where it's placed in the timeline is the necessary due to Maul's limited operation periods in the Star Wars timeline, but Lockdown doesn't use Plagueis as a crutch. Instead, this is a standalone story that has but one objective: to let Maul loose to wreak havoc. Ironically, unleashing Maul means putting restraints on him, and that only seems to make him even more dangerous.
As with Death Troopers, Schreiber's incredibly descriptive prose brings a heightened sense of action and grit to the story. The inevitable fight scenes play out vividly.
Veteran Star Wars narrator Jonathan Davis is once again in top form, bringing the characters and situations to life as few others seem to be able to do. Mix in sound effects and a handful of classic John Williams musical cues, and the movie in your mind is complete.
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